Poetry: Sasha Steensen

Aflame, it itself made

                        “redeemed from fire by fire”
                                                —T.S. Eliot

This is a world
very wolved

                                                                                    different than it was yesterday
                                                                                    and already begun to cool

as if
it could be

                                                                                    I stand

in the burning field
look back and see grief

                                                                                    where wheat
                                                                                    won’t grow.

To thrive I’ve,
we’ve, all of us
                                                                                    it seems
                                                                                    lived in extremes

all of us always
need privacy

                                                                                    this neighborly

has its boundaries
of bindweed

                                                                                    and cacti
                                                                                    on this side of the cliff
not at all
touched by it.

                                                                                    Still, it seems
                                                                                    raging right here

not a bird in the air
the world a fruit

                                                                                    to do with it
                                                                                    and through it

what he will
fog without fail

                                                                                    the house, an island
                                                                                    of ash and I imagine

a blanket of snow
falling still

                                                                                    slowly watering,
                                                                                    wintering in reverse

air aqueous
a waterwall

                                                                                    100 houses


In this world of poem
I can only do what is undone

                                                                                    each movement
                                                                                    stands in for moments

unimagining lightning
imagining a lightening

                                                                                    auroras like cypresses
                                                                                    geomagnetic storms

a kindling of the eye

                                                                                    as it shuts before opening
                                                                                    the very first time.

I’m looking for flourishing
I take it in my hands

                                                                                    flour, the breadth
                                                                                    opens alphabets

they hardly stir
to quench it

                                                                                    it finds thoughts
                                                                                    thoughts find

their place
and place

                                                                                    themselves not in line
                                                                                    but along the ridge we walk

so cleanly done
it could not be human

                                                                                    it a word we try not to use
                                                                                    so useful now

it opens it
a promethean gift-theft

                                                                                    is still a gift
                                                                                    fennel-stock of heat

bull bones in glistening fat
beef hides
                                                                                    inside an ox’s stomach
                                                                                    all clay again for the making.

That which
survives it
                                                                                    it made
                                                                                    it fired this pot

it melded this metal
meanwhile                                                                     all else


Unspecified it
the formal imperative

                                                                                    up the stunning stairwell
                                                                                    and out

the house
vividly arrested

                                                                                    drops off a cliff
                                                                                    above the tree line
the never summer range
                                                                                    waters suddenly
                                                                                    flowing the other way

back from where they came
path and endpost
                                                                                    gate, forever opens

heat, all but heat
is symbolic

                                                                                    and thus, all but heat
                                                                                    is reductive

it takes the waters
as reins

                                                                                    it follows waves
                                                                                    it holds its own breastplate

it breathes
it sees its
                                                                                    feet stepping forward
                                                                                    out before it it needs embrace

it a thousand leaved
red root pigweed

                                                                                    it cannot be
                                                                                    anything other than

its own face raging

                                                                                    it’s bravery
                                                                                    each tool
we yield against it
forged by it

                                                                                    it has a name
                                                                                    which it does not  exhaust

or receive
it does not admit it

                                                                                    plurality of seeds beneath
                                                                                    it winded it
toward it
ananke, flag of necessity.

too soon it took its foot away
it it without name

                                                                                    from whence it came?


or rather,
from whom it flamed?
                                                                                    the iguana carried it
                                                                                    in its head-crest

the flame-tailed finch,
behind its back

                                                                                    the cockatoo,
                                                                                    in her red chest

the water-rat and cod-fish
hid it in their thickets

                                                                                    dogs with burning sticks
                                                                                    on their tails swam the straight

the musk-duck
the crocodile’s mouth

                                                                                    the wallaroo
                                                                                    issuing forth from his penis

little boys and old ladies
with flaming fingers
                                                                                    pointed at it
                                                                                    with it

bird-thieves: woodpeckers,
kingfishers, hummingbirds & hawks

                                                                                    tigers pulling throngs
                                                                                    from their claws.

The sloth carried it
between his shoulders
                                                                                    the coyote brought it
                                                                                    on her hair.

The guinea pig
stole it from the jaguar
                                                                                    the toad
                                                                                    from the vulture

the deaf adder
released it when he laughed
                                                                                    thanks to the dancing deer                                                                                     with combustible
in her ears.

                                                                                 The caribou hid it
                                                                                 in her headdress

the beaver
in his watercourses

                                                                                    the muskrat in her apron
                                                                                    of marmot skin.

A spider,
having spun a large web

                                                                                    upon which a woodpecker

extended a thin but sturdy ladder
to our castor and pollux.

                                                                                    Or, the same spider,
                                                                                    by way of a gossamer balloon,

brought it back
from the moon.

                                                                                    May I present
                                                                                    the robin’s red breast

as evidence of fire
in her chest.


But before that
in the smoke
                                                                                    of hoariest history
                                                                                    the sun

moved tidal
and temporal
                                                                                    with tinder

my feather stick
of thin curls
                                                                                    by love.

I find live timber
not a weapon
                                                                                    but a welcome
                                                                                    a settler’s blessing.
The black war was
a misunderstanding

                                                                                    mariners saw a musket
                                                                                    not a wisp of straw

not an aboriginal offering
but gates of basalt.
                                                                                    The heart like
                                                                                    a covered flame

sings as it is consumed
agnis agile ignis ire

                                                                                    little white flower
                                                                                    noble blue center

reddens when tossed
over the precipice

                                                                                    royalty evidenced:
                                                                                    both laurel trees & lion bones

when shaken, spark
scarf of earth

                                                                                    auburn auburned
                                                                                    crown crowned

the treetops with fire
with ebon honor.


Do you know
what happens when

                                                                                    one story falls
                                                                                    upon another?

what happens to bathtubs?
to beds?
                                                                                    what happens
                                                                                    to chimneys?

Let’s see how to tell
it without it
                                                                                    consuming us.
                                                                                    It says, gather beside me

as you have for centuries
tell instead the dream
                                                                                    of the deceased
                                                                                    each of each

carrying one unharmed belonging
down the mountain

                                                                                    before the flame inflames
                                                                                    the alembic of the world

not dreamed
spindle and weave

                                                                                    H.D.’s burnt tree
                                                                                    & how the wind  does carry

without barrier
not the seed, but the thread

                                                                                    mustard’s edible leaves
                                                                                    I wear a dress of these

newly picked

                                                                                    of the soil

the forest’s understory

                                                                                    says, verily
                                                                                    I say unto thee

you will be with me.


We must be
in disaster

                                                                                    its winds

not tragedy not
the kind that cannot

                                                                                    be overcome
                                                                                    but the coming kind.

We all have it in common
one long longing

                                                                                    to see it renewed
                                                                                    it touches our body

this tree’s obituary
viewed collectively

                                                                                    and what is community but
                                                                                    connectivity held loosely

the pond not burned
to the ground

                                                                                    because it is the ground
                                                                                    the deer standing

safe in its center
and so much easier now to see

                                                                                    the dark place we’ve
                                                                                    lived so long alight

wolves in their sanctuary
foxes in their dens
                                                                                    we position ourselves
                                                                                    wonder what burnt first

& from which direction
we photograph

                                                                                    though no one photo
                                                                                    can hold it
the child, hopeful, says
there may be a corner left
                                                                                    there may be astral radiance

this little grassy tussock
not an accident

                                                                                    all but Antarctica
                                                                                    melts in its presence.


Streams of silver
where the lawnchair

                                                                                    once was
                                                                                    the playset remains

it calms us

                                                                                    & in its face
                                                                                    we see relief

we see it
for what it is:

                                                                                    able-bodied it
                                                                                    it itself makes
the word
& its worship.


At the point of the fl
ame if
                                                                                    the sword lilies
                                                                                    are phototropic

where gladiolas’
                                                                                    color gives way
                                                                                    to an invisible

vibration it rains if
a sterile land shimme

                                                                                    little safeling

if ash
en it rains
                                                                                    a little
                                                                                    on the tinder

if tend
er larval

                                                                                    if the dream
                                                                                    gives for

m to that never be
fore dreamed but live

                                                                                   d, if livid
                                                                                    look it in the face
far distance
holy for

                                                                                    est where color
                                                                                    gives way t

o shade
                                                                                    it is a

we be
for it



We brush it
and see if anything shines.
                                                                                    No thing does
                                                                                    but embers

& the black backs
of our beetles.

                                                                                    It floods us
                                                                                    in emblems

it is
not an element

                                                                                    but an event
                                                                                    like slaughtering

a rooster
where there’s room

                                                                                    and no thing
                                                                                    to ruin.

I’ve said
my prayers

                                                                                    the land is
                                                                                    a mushroom

a morel

                                                                                    hive of the world
                                                                                    and only growing
because it
spread its arms wide.

                                                                                    It held
                                                                                    the lodgepole pine

whose needles
need heat to reseed

                                                                                    the tree                                                                                     where the imagined

and the discovered

                                                                                    it, fire
                                                                                    a gift

however mercurial
is irenic

                                                                                    always plural
                                                                                    surrounded by itself

it is
never singular

                                                                                    it lisps
                                                                                    perhaps we’ll learn

from this
very word                                    earth
                                                                                    to sing
                                                                                    what we serve.

steensenSasha Steensen is the author of three books of poetry, most recently House of Deer (Fence Books), and several chapbooks, including A History of the Human Family (Flying Guillotine). Recent work has appeared in Jubilat, Octopus, The Laurel Review and The Volta. She teaches Creative Writing and Literature at Colorado State University, where she also serves as a poetry editor for Colorado Review. “Aflame, it itself made” was written after her parents’ home was claimed by the High Park Fire in June of 2012.